Mark Martin claimed victory in a dramatic finish at Michigan after Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle ran out of fuel ahead of him on the last lap.
The 50-year-old veteran took his third victory of the season and his fifth at Michigan by running strongly in the first half of the race to recover from a poor starting spot and then being wise enough to stretch his fuel mileage in the final stint.
For the most part, the event seemed like a straightforward affair with Johnson leading the most laps and looking unbeatable while pulling out massive leads on the long green-flag runs of a race that saw only three caution periods. However, when the caution came out on lap 50 for an incident involving David Stremme on the frontstretch, fuel calculations started to come into play and for most of the top runners it did not look possible to make it to the end if the race went green all the way to the finish.
As expected, all the leaders pitted for fuel and four new tires on that third caution, a task that Biffle's team executed to perfection to allow its driver to come out in front of Johnson, who was also overtaken by Denny Hamlin.
On what turned out to be the last restart of the race with 43 laps to go, Martin overtook Johnson, while both of them were able to get by Hamlin. In clean air Biffle opened up a small gap to the Hendrick duo, while trying to save fuel at the same time.
With 23 laps remaining Johnson got past Martin and went in hot pursuit of Biffle. The Roush Fenway driver tried to keep the gap to the reigning champion, as his crew chief Greg Irwin kept telling him on the radio that he was two laps short on fuel.
But as Johnson arrived on his rear bumper, he was instructed to stop the fuel saving and go for the victory. Previously Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief, had told his driver to be soft on the gas pedal, but his times seemed to suggest he was confident of his fuel mileage.
Johnson finally got a run on Biffle and took the lead with six laps remaining, and looked to be on his way to his first win at Michigan. However the unexpected happened on the last lap when Johnson ran out of fuel as he was about to cross the start-finish line for the penultimate time.
Biffle inherited the lead but his glory was short-lived as he ran out of gas too on the backstretch, allowing Martin to lead the most crucial lap of the day at Michigan, although he too coasted through the checkered flag as he lost fuel pressure coming out of the final turn.
"My car was good, I thought I could run with those guys but I couldn't run their pace and save gas and we really needed to finish," Martin said. "When Jimmie ran out [of fuel] I said 'I'm gonna run hard! It's only three quarters of a lap. What can happen?' I surely made it and [the car] ran out [of fuel] coming out of [Turn] Four!"
Johnson was left in disbelief, having recovered the lead following a slow last stop. He led nearly three quarters of the distance, but for the second week in a row he ran out of fuel on the last lap. He crossed the finish line through the pits and in 22nd place.
"I'm trying to look at the bright side of things because we had such a dominant car and we passed second and third and we went up to get the lead and it's unfortunate that we ran out of gas, but that is how it is," Johnson said.
"I guess if we would have held back we would have finished second or third and [Biffle] would have run out of gas and we still would have won. I am disappointed about the fuel. The car, myself, whatever it is, but we don't get the best fuel mileage and we are always fast."
Biffle was able to cross the finish line in fifth place, while Jeff Gordon, who had started down at the back of the pack following an engine change, saved enough fuel to complete the final lap at full throttle and come home in a well-deserved second place.
"I was just backing it off way early -- then [Johnson is] coming, he's coming, he's coming, and I'm like, 'There's no way I can run that pace and not run out of gas,' so I picked it up a little bit, and I could hold him off there," Biffle said.
"I was kind of tricking him, I was slowing down getting into the corner, but finally he got in front of us. I saw he was really, really loose, and I thought, 'Well, maybe I can mess with him,' and get back beside him, but I just ran out a half a lap short."
Hamlin bounced back from a tough race at Pocono to finish third, while Carl Edwards was the best of the Roush Fenway Fords in the end, crossing the line in fourth place, although he was never a factor in the battle for victory.
Juan Pablo Montoya had a strong race, running as high as third at one point behind Johnson and Biffle. Although he missed out on a better result when he lost pace at the beginning of the last stint, his fifth top 10 of the season got him closer to the top twelve in the standings, just before the first road course race of the season next week at Sonoma.
Points leader Tony Stewart had a solid day with seventh ahead of Kurt Busch, pole-sitter Brian Vickers and Richard Childress' Clint Bowyer, who rounded out the top ten.
Martin's win allowed him to jump up five spots in the championship to eighth, which is his highest ranking of the season.RESULTS:
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Mark Martin Chevrolet 200
2. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 200
3. Denny Hamlin Toyota 200
4. Carl Edwards Ford 200
5. Greg Biffle Ford 200
6. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 200
7. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 200
8. Kurt Busch Dodge 200
9. Brian Vickers Toyota 200
10. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 200
11. Jamie McMurray Ford 200
12. Elliott Sadler Dodge 200
13. Kyle Busch Toyota 200
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 200
15. David Ragan Ford 200
16. Bill Elliott Ford 200
17. Robby Gordon Toyota 200
18. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 200
19. David Reutimann Toyota 200
20. Matt Kenseth Ford 200
21. Kasey Kahne Dodge 200
22. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 200
23. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 199
24. Casey Mears Chevrolet 199
25. Joey Logano Toyota 199
26. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 199
27. Reed Sorenson Dodge 199
28. Bobby Labonte Ford 199
29. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 198
30. Michael Waltrip Toyota 198
31. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 198
32. David Gilliland Chevrolet 198
33. John Andretti Chevrolet 198
34. Paul Menard Ford 197
35. Max Papis Toyota 193
36. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 192
37. Scott Speed Toyota 174
38. David Stremme Dodge 159
39. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 144
40. Dave Blaney Toyota 23
41. Sterling Marlin Dodge 23
42. Joe Nemechek Toyota 20
43. Tony Raines Dodge 17